Opinion// Could the Atari Landfill Happen Today?

Posted 29 Dec 2014 14:46 by
Games: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
We asked Adam Capone - a game maker, and a long time friend of SPOnG and Joypod to give us the lowdown on why thousands of copies of Atari's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial have been dug up to make a TV show to be shown via Microsoft's Xbox Live.

Is it more than a cash-in on a tired old game that should have remained buried? Let's find out...

I think E.T. stands out as a special title for all sorts of reasons. Foremost you have to consider just how huge the movie was. It could be well argued that E.T. was the first childrenís film that appealed to both children and parents.

It was everywhere, and so confident were Atari that they produced more copies than there were Atari 2600 units in households. They just expected people to go out and buy Atari 2600 machines so that they could play E.T..

The license alone cost them $25 million, which was unheard of in gaming at that time. Itís also famous because it was known that people were sending it back in huge numbers because they found it unplayable and were so disappointed. In the end it was reported that it lost Atari around $125 million. Itís surely no coincidence that the following year Atari was divided and sold.

There was around a year of nothing regarding video gaming in America. The industry crashed and there was a genuine belief from many that videogames were just a fad and would be soon replaced by something else. I donít think Iím alone in this, but I find great amusement in the entire gaming industry being seemingly on its death bed after the closure of one of the biggest players in the industry, all because of that funny-looking puppet thatís supposed to be this bundle of magical innocent childhood joy.

Of course itís much more complex than that but, yes, essentially E.T. was a huge part of it. Have any other games single-handedly been associated with destroying the entire industry? Perhaps itís more difficult for British people to understand because Atari wasnít that huge in the UK? Perhaps if E.T. was known as the game that played a key part in closing down Sinclair the game would feel more significant?

Itís incredible really, because the E.T. situation would never happen today. Not only has the movie industry gained respect for games and provided more reasonable development time to create licensed games but, of course, games are now play-tested. For sure there has been an entire barrage of bad movie licences, but those are mostly just uncreative and boring.

You simply wouldnít get a high budget, movie-licensed game that was unplayable today. Even if you did, there would be endless media telling you how bad it is so you wouldnít purchase it in the first place. Add that to the fact that we live in a world of digital distribution now and itís clear that the story of E.T. will never be repeated on the same level.

I always found the myth in itself entertaining, and one that got out of control because nobody would ever really talk about it. Even the designer himself said the story wasnít true. So, the myth ended up being this comical vision of one big truck with Atari on the side in big letters going to a mysterious desert and millions of E.T. games being buried by a single weeping Atari employee.

When, really, itís just that Atari needed to dispose of their inventory during the clearout and sent out all their worthless products and trash, via a clearing service, to the dump. The dump just happened to be in a desert, and a large portion of the dump was copies of E.T., both unsold and returns.

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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Games: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

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William 6 Jan 2015 18:44
In the past you would not ship a buggy game or it will end up in landfill. Now its far too common practice to ship games and let the customers do the testing.

What I can tell you is that if I had an Atari and plugged in adventure it would be playable - pretty sure I cant say the same for games on Xbox 1 or PS4 in 20 years.
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